Vaega keen to impress for Stags
If there was one bright spot to emerge out of Southland's 30-9 opening-round loss to Counties-Manukau, it would be promising, young midfielder Cardiff Vaega.
Not much went right for the Stags in Jason Rutledge's record-breaking 121st game for the union but Vaega showed enough signs to suggest he could be in for an impressive campaign.
He ran strongly with ball in hand and worked hard on both attack and defence in the losing effort.
The 20-year-old debuted for the Stags in their final game of the season last year against Bay of Plenty - scoring a try in their 29-17 loss.
With Kenny Lynn now playing for Bay of Plenty and Tony Koonwaiyou not returning, Vaega has the chance to gain greater game-time this year.
"I want to cement myself in the Stags team and do the province proud," Vaega said.
"I want to keep improving with every game. I try not to get ahead of myself too much."
Vaega attended Kelston Boys' High School in Auckland but moved to Invercargill last year to join the Rugby Southland academy and study at the Southern Institute of Technology.
He is following in the footsteps of his father, former Samoa international To'o Vaega, who also played for Southland in the mid 1990s.
Cardiff takes his name from the scene of one of Samoa's greatest rugby victories at their first World Cup appearance in 1991.
Vaega senior, played a starring role at that tournament, scoring a try in Samoa's 16-13 upset win over Wales at Cardiff Arms Park.
He was in the stands at Pukekohe to see his son play on Sunday.
Cardiff speaks to his parents every Friday evening and his father was always willing to pass on advice and help him improve his game. "He tells me to believe in myself, have faith in what I do, and train hard."
Growing up as the son of a Samoan rugby legend had never really bothered Cardiff. He said he had always tried to be his own man and not rely on his father's reputation to get places in life.
"I don't depend on his history too much. I try to pave my own path," he said.
"I just try to compete with myself and better myself, each and every day."
Vaega is part of a growing list of Auckland-raised players, who have headed south, in search of playing opportunities.
The former New Zealand under-17 international said he enjoyed the quieter pace of life in Southland and was relishing being apart of the Stags set-up.
"I've found a good place here. All the boys are good," he said.
"It doesn't really matter where you go. It's just about applying the attitude and being willing to learn and take that next step."
Southland will be determined to atone for their disappointing first-round performance when they take on Wellington in the capital on Sunday.
The Lions have won both of their opening gamesand, with an experienced forward pack and dangerous backline, will be a tough test for the Stags.
"We've talked about our physicality in that ruck area. We need to be strong in contact," Vaega said.
"I think everyone knows where we went wrong and that's something we've addressed. Hopefully we can fix it up [on Sunday]."
The Southland Times